The Tata Nano, being a revolutionary car of sorts, was expected to be a blockbuster at the automobile “box office”, but eventually the total number of bookings at just over two lakhs were grossly below expectations of around six lakh bookings.
I don’t know what reasons others have given for this poor performance, but here’s my take on the same.
We went to check out the Tata Nano on the last day for bookings. We went to the Tata Motors’ Concorde showroom near Dairy Circle in Bangalore. We were planning to buy one for my father-in-law in case it was good. But following were our observations when we saw the car:
1. Not very good quality of plastics. The car looks good on TV, but in reality the poor quality of external plastics really strikes you. Even the outside rear-view mirror looked very cheap in quality and felt as if it could fall off any minute! Also, the car doesn’t give an impression of being sturdy. Interior plastics though are pretty ok. I think the exterior plastics might look better with non-metallic colors. The car we saw was the top-end model and had a metallic silver color.
2. The boot fitted in the front isn’t useful at all. The entire space is taken up by the spare tyre, fuel tank inlet and other things (see image below). The luggage space at the back isn’t easy to access. A few screws have to be removed and the seat lifted to expose this space. And there’s always the chance of your luggage getting heated up, as the engine is right underneath the luggage space.
3. Seats appear very thin. The car battery is kept under the driver’s seat. What struck me was that the contacts to the battery were lying exposed. May not be dangerous as the battery is just 12V, but still…
4. Dashboard, steering, etc. are pretty ok for that price. There’s a decent amount of storage space on the dashboard. Instrument cluster is in the middle, like the Chevrolet Spark. This will reduce the redesign required for left-hand drive versions.
5. Front and rear wheels are of different widths. The spare tyre can be used in any position in an emergency, but must later be replaced with the correct dimension wheel. This I feel should have been avoided, whatever the technical compulsions.
6. Two-stroke engine. There’s the question of how the two-stroke engine sounds. Does it sound like an autorickshaw engine? Or is it somewhere in between an autorickshaw engine and a normal car engine?
Now coming to why I believe the car didn’t sell as well as it was expected to. I have come up with four major reasons:
1. Base model of the Nano costs Rs. 1,31,028 ex-showroom, which comes up to an on-road price of Rs. 1,55,998. This is way beyond the much-hyped figure of Rs. 1,00,000. The top-end model (Nano LX) costs Rs. 2,12,194 on-road. At these prices, it’s not terribly cheaper than a Maruti 800.
2. No test-drives allowed! If you were thinking of test-driving the Nano before booking it, sorry but that’s not possible! Forget that, the staff at Concorde Motors did not even allow us to touch the vehicle! They had put a cordon around the lone Nano there, and we had to basically ask them to open the doors, boot, etc. so we could see how it was inside.
Now, Rs. 1.5 lakh-odd may be cheap for a car, but it isn’t small change. I don’t think I would be comfortable even buying a 100cc bike for around Rs. 30,000 without test-driving and feeling it myself.
For instance, how do we know how smooth the suspension is? How smooth and powerful is the engine? How well do the doors close? How comfortable are the seats? How accessible are the luggage storage compartments? How stable is the car while taking sharp turns or at high speeds? And as mentioned earlier, there’s also the question of how the engine sounds while in operation.
All these things have to be checked before one commits a large amount towards the car. So in short, I don’t think most people would like to purchase a car by just looking at it.
I think this was a very poor decision from Tata Motors. Perhaps they thought that the hype was enough to ensure an overwhelming reception for the car. It may be a people’s car in theory, but by keeping the people away from it, you’re not going to get popular acceptance for your car!
3. Looks. Thirdly, as mentioned before, there’s also the issue of looks. As I said, it looks great on TV but in reality it isn’t so stunning. Plastics look cheap and the car looks fragile.
4. Waiting period. Last, but not the least, there’s also the issue of the mammoth waiting period of about one year for delivery of the Nanos. In today’s fast moving world, many people would be discouraged by the thought of having to wait for a year to get the delivery of their Nanos. Sure, Tata Motors is giving a decent interest rate on the down payment, but that’s hardly sufficient to negate consumers’ doubts.